Tuscany is located in central Italy. The Apennines and Alpi Apuane Mountains intersect the region, creating dramatic views. The famous marble quarries of Cararra are located in the Tuscan Alps.
The Tuscan coast, on the other hand, is full of picturesque villages, vast pine forests, lakes and sandy beaches. The areas of Lunigiana and Garfagnana were once connected to the sea by a series of lakes, and are home to historic artifacts and natural wonders.
Travelling from Casentino, on the border with Romagna, towards Mugello, you will encounter immense forests of beech and chestnut trees. Once in Mugello you will find the fertile region where Florentine Renaissance lords built their castles and fortresses. The hills that run from Florence to Siena are covered with cypress trees, olives and grapevines.
Small towns and remote churches are also hidden in the hills. Tuscany is also known for its sunflower fields, the arid Metallifere hills, and the Maremma plains, home to the region’s sheep and cattle.
In Tuscany, every city is an artistic and cultural jewel box, from the ancient Etruscan city of Volterra, to Roman town of Luni. The medieval towers of Sienna and San Gimignano are certainly not to miss. The walls surrounding Lucca and the gothic Piazza dei Miracoli in Pisa are also quite remarkable. Florence, the center of the Italian Renaissance, is a must.
The flavors of Tuscany are strong and straightforward. The regional recipes are based on outstanding, local ingredients. Tuscan extra virgin olive oil is the used in almost every recipe and really defines Tuscan cooking. Tuscans consume a lot of vegetables and legumes.
Chickpeas, zolfini or Sorana beans, Tuscan kale, artichokes, peas, and tomatoes are used in many ways, especially in the rustic preparations. The local salt-less bread is used to thicken many soups, like ribollita, or “twice-boiled" vegetable soup, or in kale or bean soup. Tuscan bread also appears in pappa al pomodoro, a hearty tomato and bread soup, and panzanella, a flavorful tomato and bread salad.
Pasta, generally fresh egg pasta, is served in chickpea and bean soups, but also as wide fettuccine-like noodles called pappardelle. The pasta is often tossed in elaborate meat sauces. You will also find sauces made with wild game like hare or boar, especially in Maremma.
Rice dishes are also cooked with rich mixtures of meat, mushrooms and chicken giblets. Giblets, or entrails, also appear in Tuscan classics like cibreo, or served on bread, or crostini, as chicken liver pate. Game meat, spleen and chicken hearts are also used to make pates or stuffing. Tripe, or more specifically lampredotto, a specific type of tripe, and stomach is served on the streets of Florence with a slice of bread.
Tuscan meat, and especially beef from the Val di Chiana, is known for its excellent quality and simple preparations. The classic Florentine steak, or fiorentina, for example, is grilled over juniper wood with aromatic herbs, while pork loin, or arista, is slow-roasted in the oven.
Tuscany is also known for its simple seafood dishes like cacciucco, a hearty fish stew, and zuppa d’arselle, or mussel soup. Triglie alla Livornese, or pan-fried mullet, is worth seeking out.
The regional salumi and cheeses maintain the simple, savory character typical of the Tuscan cuisine. Lardo di Colonnata DOP is a Tuscan classic and is made from perfectly white lard aged in marble tubs. Also look for salty Tuscan prosciutto and encased locally made sausages like Buristo, Bardiccio and Sanbudello. Due to the sheepherding tradition in Tuscany, you will find many sheep’s milk cheeses, like Pecorino Toscano DOP, Pecorino di Pienza, Marzolino Del Chianti and small wheels, or caciotte, made from a mix of sheep and cow’s milk.
Tuscany also produces a number of important Italian wines, like Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Moscatello di Montalcino, Vernaccia, Aleatico and the sweet dessert wine, Vin Santo. Many Tuscan sweets have an international following, while others are less well known. The regional desserts include panforte di Siena, ricciarelli, cantucci di Prato, confetti pistoiesi, zuccotto fiorentino, and brigidini di Lamporecchio.